Well, I did not burst into flame

Nor was I cooked and eaten by hungry people.  What I was asked how our Black lives matter meeting went, that was my response. One and one half days have passed and I am still alive.  We have begun the trip and are fairly civilized. The group includes people who are fairly active in matters of racial justice and me. For me, racial justice lately has been the ability to earn a living without fear of eviction and having the same benefits as my co-workers. For people who don’t know, being a peer support specialist is my fourth or fifth career and it is the one the has lasted the longest. I have been a librarian, a cooperative developer, a grant writer and a day care worker. Since those other careers faded away, one can conclude that either I was not especially skilled or I am better suited for what I am doing now. These jobs sometimes paid decent money but unfortunately did not last more than a few years.

Peer support has often been a low paying career in which I had to fight to earn a living wage. I am wearing the first pair of glasses ever bought with company provided vision benefits. Either my previous jobs didn’t have vision benefits or I didn’t use them. Making my life matter meant a lot of pain and struggle to survive. There was also a lot of acting out and fairly embarrassing behavior that ruined relationships. My current life is the most stable I have felt for a long time.

I now feel as though I have something to offer such as the value of my experience. I know what it means to feel ashamed that you need to depend on your family for support well into adulthood. I know about having your payroll check bounce. I know what bad and good employers are like. These are all things I bring to the struggle to making black lives matter in Milwaukee. I was the only African-American at the table for our first meeting at the First Unitarian Society, a situation I hope to change. I hope to venture out and become a part of some of the struggles my fellow members have been involved with and make a difference. I will share my vision, now that it is clear what I can see.

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Helping Milwaukee County Make Decisions

A few years ago the Republican controlled state legislature passed a law taking decision-making authority for mental health away from the elected county supervisors and replaced them with a group of volunteers from the community. The board includes mental health consumers, attorneys, advocates and mental health professionals. There are a lot of big decisions to be made regarding Milwaukee County mental health. The county is moving away from the model of maintaining a large mental health facility which they have been downsizing over the years by closing wards and shifting the people who lived there to community based facilities. Case management, which helps people live in the community, has already been contracted out to various agencies. These agencies help engage with consumers and connect them to services with the aim of reducing their dependence on in patient treatment, which is expensive and often very traumatic.

However, there are no guarantees in this system. We all know people in community programs who died but we can try to reduce the number of preventable deaths. We can ensure that case management provides necessary services. We can increase the number of affordable housing units. We can offer physical and mental health in a coordinated fashion and make certain that people are getting regular check ups. We can have clinics where we would want to be treated. These are very easy steps we can take in our own agencies

But what we do to guide the process of system wide reform? One way is by joining the mental health board. Imagine my surprise when a former co-worker asked me to apply to join the board, which is appointed by the county executive. I will be tossing my hat into the ring tonight to see if I can add my experience to this group. I am excited, interested and curious all at the same time. I will post some more as the process goes along.

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Shot while in the hospital

I just listened to a story on This American Life about Alan Pean, a young African-American man who experienced a severe psychiatric breakdown while living in Houston, Texas. Alan was a college student who had previously survived a couple of episodes of manic depressive disorder. Alan came from a high achieving family with doctors including his father.

Alan found that his mind was overpowered by a delusion  that caused him to jump off the balcony of his third story apartment, make his way to his car and crash through the gates. He drove toward St. Joseph Hospital, a major medical facility in downtown Houston. He crashed and totaled his car into the hospital and somehow told the emergency room staff he was having a manic episode. But he was never treated for his mental disorder. His father who is of Haitian descent arrived a few hours later and also told the staff that his son was having mental problems and yet Alan was still not evaluated by a psychiatrist.

His father left to try to arrange getting Alan help for his mental illness and shortly afterwards the staff had trouble with Alan and called for security. This turned out to be Houston police with guns who were not trained in dealing with psychiatric patients. Alan was tasered, then shot and almost killed and later charged with assault. Although the charges were later dropped there is a disturbing pattern of mental patients being shot or tasered by  police who have little or no training in dealing with them.

There is a New York Times article about the incident involving Alan Pean. People need to be aware of these kinds of incidents and understand that psychiatric patients need help, not bullets. They need people trained to deescalate and force is the last thing you would ever want to use to help someone recover his or her mind.

This story raises other questions, such as what if Alan and his father had been white? Would the outcome be different? Would the hospital staff  you turn to for help be able to recognize that when a white person says he needs mental help, they would hear the person and attempt to provide help? What prevents them from hearing the same statements from people of color? What information is available about the hospital you use and their policy about the use of force? How equipped are they to handle people with a mental illness? Is the person the staff calls for help going to be an armed police officer? And finally, what safe alternatives are there to hospitals for people with mental illness and how widely known are these alternatives?

Why did his son kill himself

I have been reading facebook posts promoting suicide prevention and talking about the need to look after one another. The need to offer support, empathy and resources. But there are so many places where vulnerable are most at risk.

Youths are at risk, people in mental hospitals are at even more risk and the most at risk of violence are in prison. I just read a story in the New Yorker about the story of a young man in the New York state prison system whose father was preparing to send of him a care package only to discover he had been buried 6 weeks earlier. The article by Jennifer Gonnerman, told how Lonnie Hamilton II learned that his son had died on March 18, 2016 when he went to the prison website. His son, Lonnie Hamilton III, had hung himself after becoming increasingly depressed in the Marcy Correctional Facility.

This is a story about an involved father who worked long hours to provide for his children only to lose one of them to crime and seeing his son torn away from the community. It is a story about failure to notify the next of kin about what was happening. There were signs especially self mutilation that should have set off a thousand alarm bells. I don’t think that the prison tried everything possible to assist Lonnie.

These kinds of tragedies happen all too often. I don’t think the prison was set up to meet the needs of a deeply troubled African American young man so he became a casualty. This is a cry for help, action and a replacement for the deconstruction. I would hate for this to happen to one of my nephews and hope people will use these stories

Re incarceration without conviction

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I was looking for a class today at the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee about ecological health  and had bought the book and was diligently studying it. However while I was waiting a friend from the Black Lives Matter group told me about a meeting regarding re-incarceration without conviction. I had read an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about a black man who was on probation and was driving a car and was stopped by the police. It so happened that the man has a white girl friend who is a gun enthusiast and has pictures of herself with her friends on social media holding their guns. All of which were duly registered with the State of Wisconsin. But he did not know the gun was in the car and was was charged with being a felon in possession of a weapon. Fortunately a jury found him innocent but his probation officer revoked him on the grounds he was a danger to the community.

The man had roots in the community including a small transportation business and a child. Instead he became one of the more than 4,000 people who are sent back to prison in Wisconsin without having committed a crime. The Wisconsin Department of Corrections has wide latitude in deciding whether to revoke people but this case has something in common with many others in that the person  considered dangerous was a black man even though he had a spotless record and was taking tangible steps to improve himself.

The two speakers at the meeting, one white and one black, are also examples of trying to fight the odds. The white speaker was Mark Rice, who is a candidate for a doctorate from UWM, told about his battle to overcome being revoked. He had a history of mental illness and had previously lived in Madison where his probation officer had a background that allowed him to understand his situation. But when he moved to Milwaukee his probation officer had no such training and revoked him for an incident resulting from him mental illness. His former probation officer went to bat for him which helped him return to the community.

The black speaker told of being revoked 3 times and being homeless. One of his revocations resulted from a malfunction of the monitoring bracelet that he wears on his ankle. If you you use a cell phone, are late for an appointment, accept a job without permission, leave the county or violate any of the other rules, Wisconsin can and will send your most often black or brown body back to prison.

It would be value to learn more about Ex Prisoners Organizing for Statewide Penal Reform (EXPO) and do what you can to stop the trend of mass incarceration. If you follow this link you will find out more about this group :Phone: 414-831-2070 Email: wisdomforjustice@gmail.com
Address: 2821 N. Fourth Street, #537, Milwaukee, WI 53212

 

 

 

I am the fortunate son

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As many people know, mental illness runs in the family.  All of us in my family have experienced different types of illnesses, including depression, schizophrenia and manic depression. I was more fortunate than my brother in being able to recover and develop resources. I have friends who struggled along with their siblings cycling in and out of the hospital including forced treatment.  i was never subjected to a mental hospital or picked up on the street for engaging in some bizarre behavior. Instead, I recognized that I was not the person who I had been told I would become.

I saw all the warning signs and decided to heed them. Again, I see a positive in my deciding I didn’t want to live like that. Recognizing that you need help and then actually need help can be painful. Some people literally may need to crash into a wall. And others unfortunately, may crash through the wall, leaving their loved ones behind to cry and wish that there something more they could have done. I am a peer support specialist certified by the State of Wisconsin and I can help see you through the woods.

Helping our allies

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When I returned to the website of the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee I saw information about events that the church made been organizing around the issue of Black Lives Matter. And so I felt more motivated. And I went for a walk.   I had read that everything political starts with a personal choice. There was a movie on PBS by a man who lost his father to diabetes and his father was around my age. My heart skips a beat when I hear that people in my age group are dying from preventable diseases. The best way I can act as if I believe my my matters is my taking care of it.

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Today I am proud to say I met my fitness goals. I am taking good care of the body my parents gave me. Almost as important, I sent a text message to a dear friend whose support helped me through a difficult time in my life. I said never underestimate the power of friendship. Patricia Raybon talked about the need for interracial friendships. I think this is something we need throughout our lives. We must maintain empathy for people who look and speak differently from ourselves.

It is true that we share different parts of ourselves with the people we meet. At the all black office where I am located most of the time, I talk with them about the Fondy Market a place where we can meet positive people including those who look like us. This is important because unfortunately in mental health, we are often dealing with people who are at their worst. That is why we need their help.

At the church I am a quirky older man who pops in once in a blue moon.

But what  am I to you and why are you reading me?